Wednesday, July 9, 2008

HOMELESS ORGANIZING

Many are they who could tell you of just how disenfranchised the homeless often feel. They often receive promises from politicians, especially during election season. All too often those promises are broken. Even the cabinet members that are appointed by elected officials tend to make and break promises. Then there is the shelter staff to deal with. Some have a genuine concern for the people that are placed under their care. Others couldn't care less about their homeless clients. Then again, there are the homeless advocates who care but have limited resources and influence. All-in-all, the homeless have good reason to feel disenfranchised and to assume that there is no way out of their predicament.

I was a facilitator at a meeting which was held at One Judiciary Square on December 9th, 2006, by members of Mayor Fenty's transition team. The purpose of the meeting was to gather the concerns of the homeless community and take them to Mayor-elect Fenty. More than 80 homeless people showed up. The 15 people in my group were rattling off their concerns so quickly that I had measurable difficulty writing them all down.

I also have comments from multiple Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) hearings in my e-mail account. (I'm always glad to send them out upon request.) Nonetheless, on June 12th of this year, I heard complaints from the homeless community that are identical to those mentioned in 2006 and 2007. They've yet to be addressed. The homeless have come out in force and spoken up for themselves. They've waited patiently for DC government to act on their behalf. They’re still waiting. It's high time we moved to Plan B (not the pill).

At the ICH meeting on June 12th, man after man stood up and spoke of being treated disrespectfully by staff and physically abused by security at different shelters. They explained that, when they complain to shelter management, they are asked if there were any witnesses. As one man put it," They act as if, if there aren't any witnesses, it didn't happen." Several of them had multiple stories to tell. One man claimed to have six stories in addition to his own where he witnessed security abusing shelter residents. It was also pointed out that the police fail to respond when a resident calls because he or she is being abused by security. However, the police come quickly when security calls about a shelter resident. The city administrator, Dan Tangherlini, suggested that the man who witnessed six other people being abused give his accounts to the officer that was present in the meeting.

Several days after the meeting, a woman told me that she had been waiting for at least one woman to stand up and speak. None did, with the exception of a certain woman who felt that those who were complaining about their treatment at shelters were just being plain unappreciative. The woman who'd been waiting to see others speak first explained that she'd promised the director of her shelter that she would speak first with the director before taking her complaints elsewhere. She also explained just how disenfranchised the women at her shelter felt and expressed a desire to see the homeless men, such as myself, stand up for the women. I'd be glad to. I'm flattered.

Some people think that the homeless lack any ability to organize themselves. The homeless are often being mistreated. Those whom the homeless count on to vindicate and protect them are not coming through. Taken together, all of this means that the homeless must organize and advocate for themselves. They'd disprove the stereotypes, for one thing. Furthermore, they'd show that they just won't stand for the mistreatment. They'd force people to respect them. They'd also see what they can do when they put their minds to it. After all, one of the reasons that some people remain homeless is that they have gotten used to having so much done FOR them, not BY them. That much having been said, failing to adequately serve the homeless population may be one of the best things that DC Government and various service providers have ever done insomuch as it has forced the homeless to take the reins of control and to save themselves. And so I charge the homeless to take heart and be a part of the solution. Let’s organize ourselves.

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